Persons, Places, and Things

        “Because I was born in the South, I am a Southerner.  If I had been born in the North, the West, or the Central Plains, I would be just a human being.”
—Clyde Edgerton

OK, let us admit that Mr. Edgerton exaggerates.  Yet throughout the better part of the 20th century there was something approaching a consensus among historians that the American South possessed a distinctiveness lacking in other regions of the country.  To be sure, there were naysayers, some finding the South distinctive only in its poverty, ignorance, and laggard economy.  Others granted the distinction but located its source almost exclusively in the legacy of slavery and in the continuing efforts of Southerners to perpetuate a racially divided society.  Among these, Harry Ashmore, in his An Epitaph for Dixie (1958), suggested that the only peculiarity about the South had been its Peculiar Institution, and that when segregation came to an end, so would Southern distinctiveness.  Yet segregation is long since gone with the wind, and the South remains a peculiar place, though arguably less conspicuously so.  Certainly, Southerners have begun to resemble other Americans in a number of ways that I, at least, find troubling.  But much of this resemblance is superficial.  The South remains a distinctive region for reasons that are complex, elusive,...

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